Song Analysis U2’s “City of Blinding Lights”

This is my 100th post on WordPress. I thought about writing on a number of topics but decided it would be best to do a song analysis. I realized that I have not yet analyzed a U2 song on this blog and I felt that it was time to do so. Enjoy!

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now

[I think he’s talking about having your senses overwhelmed. Sometimes you can see so much that it’s more than your brain can process. The line about knowing more in the past is interesting. My chemistry teacher, an ex-lawyer, told me that when he took the bar he felt he knew more that day than any other day in his life. I also feel that there were times in my life when my brain was in better shape.]

Neon heart dayglo eyes
A city lit by fireflies
They’re advertising in the skies
For people like us

[This stanza is filled with images. Dayglo is a brand name of fluorescent pigments. The image of “a city lit by fireflies” is quite striking. I don’t get the bit about advertising in the skies. The image I see in my mind is of a plane skywriting, “Hey you, come here.”]

And I miss you when you’re not around
I’m getting ready to leave the ground….

Ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh

[I picture Bono in a plane thinking of his wife as he’s about to take off.]

Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

Don’t look before you laugh
Look ugly in a photograph
Flash bulbs purple irises
The camera can’t see

[Where is this “city of blinding lights?” Is it a specific city? Could it be Paris, once known as the “City of Lights?” Could it be New York, famous for its bright skyline? Or could it be any city?

He’s talking about being yourself without being self-conscious. He says it’s okay to giggle without checking to see who might be looking. And it’s all right to look a little goofy in a picture. One does not always have to look polished and perfect.]

I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?

[He talks about what makes his partner so beautiful to him. He talks about her courage. He talks about the clothes she made. I think there is some symbolism here. Maybe the clothes she made are her achievements in life that he remembers when he sees her. He wants to know if she sees beauty in him.]

And I miss you when you’re not around
I’m getting ready to leave the ground

Ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh

Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

Time… time
Won’t leave me as I am
But time won’t take the boy out of this man

[Time does not leave anyone alone. Time changes everyone and everything. However, we can still hang on to who we are. If there is something beautiful about our character, we can hold on to that forever.]

Oh you look so beautiful tonight
Oh you look so beautiful tonight
Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for others steal
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel… luckily

[I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment that as one comes to know more, one feels less. There is a Hadith that says that only scholars truly fear God. That suggests to me that one can know more and feel more. Yet I have seen people who have grown in knowledge and become jaded or cynical about the world.

It is true that some pray and others steal. Prayer shows that one acknowledges one’s own humble position before God. One seeks an answer or a solution from God. Stealing shows impatience and a dissatisfaction with God’s will.

The last line is pretty profound. He’s saying that God sends blessings down for everybody, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. Bono really likes the word “kneel.” If you’ve paid attention to the lyrics of U2, you’ve seen that word a lot. One example is in “Mysterious Ways”, “If you want to kiss the sky/ You better learn how to kneel.” Bono is saying that we should be grateful that God has always blessed us, even when we lost faith in Him.]

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